Window shopping

The clear truth about buying and installing new windows

By Jay Somerset

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The different types of window frames

There are four main types of window frames: wood, vinyl, aluminum and fibreglass. Each has its own pros and cons. But there are general differences, and each one is worth considering-depending on placement and budget.

Wooden window frames offer classic looks with energy efficiency. For those who want the warmth of a wooden window frame inside their homes- pine, oak or maple that can be sanded, stained or painted according to taste. Wood frames perform well in extreme heat and cold, making them wise choices for Canadian seasons. But with wood comes more maintenance (sanding, painting) to protect exterior surfaces against erosion by the weather. If not protected from moisture, wooden frames can warp, stick, crack and rot. But with simple, yearly care, your wooden frames should last a lifetime.


Vinyl frames are the most popular choice amongst homeowners. Made from rigid polyvinyl chloride (PVC), vinyl frames provide thermal protection without the maintenance required of wood. Strong and lightweight, vinyl window frames are generally less expensive than those with wooden or fibreglass frames. If you don’t mind the look of vinyl, which can’t be repainted to match your interior decor, this is a smart choice. Vinyl frames are also good for areas of high moisture (such as bathrooms or kitchens) because they wipe down easily and don’t retain moisture like wood or corrode like aluminum.

Of course, you don’t need to make such a choice if you go with combination wood- and vinyl-clad frames-the best of both worlds. Here you get the warmth and insulating value of wood on the inside (paint or stain to your heart’s content), while the weatherbeaten exterior is protected with versatile, maintenance-free vinyl. The catch: these windows tend to cost a bit more. (You can also buy combination frames with wood and fibreglass, or wood and aluminum.)

Aluminum frames are very durable, lightweight, paintable and are cheaper than other materials. They also require little maintenance. The problem: aluminum doesn’t hold heat and contributes to condensation around the edges of the pane. Plus, expect corrosion if left unpainted for more than a year. Another problem: the paint job will look significantly different than the rest of the house, simply because painted aluminum looks like, well, painted aluminum rather than wood.

Composite and fibreglass frames are the new kids in town-at least, in residential applications. Because of this, the window sizes and styles are limited and the cost is higher. Still, composite/fibreglass

combines the strength of aluminum with the insulation values of wood or vinyl. These frames are resistant to warping and rot, and they can be painted to match any interior or exterior. You should expect to pay double the price of vinyl frames.

Choosing the frame is the biggest decision with windows. Much comes down to personal preference, but keep in mind: a cheaply made window will need to be replaced much sooner than one that costs more up front. Similarly, energy-efficient models may cost more now, but you’ll save in heating and cooling costs over the next year or so. As for aesthetics, that decision is up to you.



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